I know. That comes off a little creepy, but its premise is true. My stepdaughter is scared of me and has been since she was old enough to really understand what was going on around her. And I wouldn’t change a thing about it. In fact, I think it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to our relationship. Seriously.
Now when I say she is “scared” of me, I am really talking about a healthy kind of fear that I think every step kid should have for their stepmom. Let me explain.
1. I call her out.
If my stepdaughter starts pulling away, acting awkward or manipulative, I address it right then and there. No beating around the bush. There’s no getting anything past stepmom (or mom). In this house, we walk in truth and authenticity. And honestly, even if she dreads some of those uncomfortable moments, I know deep down it makes her feel safe knowing someone is so tuned in to her emotions.
2. I call myself out.
There have been many, MANY times I have screwed up as a stepmom. Over the past several years, I have overreacted more than once. I have made comments about her other parent I knew were not meant for her to hear. I have acted distant and cold when I am upset and OVER the drama in our blended family. No, I will never be the perfect stepmom, but what I can be is that person in her life who doesn’t pretend to be perfect. I can show her what it means to take responsibility for the things I do wrong instead of shoving it under the rug and acting like it never happened, leaving her alone to internalize words and situations she is too young to comprehend or process on her own. I’ve learned kids may not like when we mess up, but they do love a sincere apology and are a lot more understanding and forgiving than we give them credit for.
3. I don’t feel sorry for her.
I know her situation is less than ideal, but it’s all she’s ever known so why would I pity her? She doesn’t need pity. In fact, I know it annoys her when people try too hard or overcompensate because they feel sorry for here. She just wants someone to believe in her. I have always held her to high standards because I want her to understand and believe she is completely capable of meeting them, just like the kid from a “normal” happy family. Coming from a broken family may be a pain in the butt, but it’s certainly not a crutch.
4. I don’t “try” very hard.
Like at all. I’m just me. And when she’s here, I still just do me. She can love it or hate it. That’s her business, not mine. And as callous as it may sound, I don’t really care if she likes me or not. That ship sailed a long time ago. But I do know she loves me, and most importantly she trusts me, and that’s all that really matters to me.
5. I stand for truth.
100% of the time. I promise you that if you asked my stepdaughter about me she would tell you I always tell the truth, even when it’s not pretty. Of course, there are certain situations where the “truth” is not appropriate, but the majority of the time, it is. On the flip side of that, she knows deception in any form will not be tolerated in my house. In her world, where there are way too many versions to every story and two houses with two different “realities,” I know without a doubt I am that one person in her life she knows will not make excuses and whose story never changes.
6. I have high expectations.
Especially with my family members. Any attitudes or behaviors we don’t tolerate in this family will be shut down before my stepkid even makes it through the front door on transition days. My husband and I have a saying in this house, “Anyone who wants to be a part of this family better act like it.” And that goes for all of us. She is absolutely expected to act like a normal, full-time member of this family which includes respecting the privacy of this family as well as doing her part with chores, etc.
7. She knows I am her dad’s number one.
Now there are a lot of people who may disagree with this and think it sounds “mean” or “wrong,” but in this family we believe that next to our relationship with God, marriage is our number one priority, always. No matter who came first — the kids or the spouse. I can assure you my stepdaughter wouldn’t dream of saying one negative word about me to my husband, because both of our kids know nobody messes with Dad’s old lady. That being said, she simply doesn’t hold the power to cause division in our marriage and she knows it.
See? Sometimes it’s okay to be a scary stepmom!
UPDATE: This is an article I wrote back in 2019. A LOT has happened in 3 years. For starters, my stepdaughter has done a lot of growing up and changing. But to be honest, I think the one who has done the most growing up and changing is ME.
Although I still stand by the majority of what I wrote in this article, I would like to address the parts of it that I no longer align with because I want everyone to recognize and understand that HUMILITY is one of the most important characteristics you can cultivate as a stepmom.
Take it from me. You are going to look back at some of things you have thought/said/done/believed and go WTF?!?! I’ve had to stick my foot in my mouth so many times in the past 9 years that I can still taste the leather. And I just want y’all to know that it’s OK and it’s a GOOD thing, because it is a necessary part of your growth as a stepmom, and it is a process that can not be skipped, faked, or rushed!
You don’t know what you don’t know…until you learn it for yourself!
Here are three of the reasons why I considered myself a scary stepmom, followed by three reasons why I no longer do, and why I hope you will reconsider it as well.
1. I don’t “try” very hard.
Look, I admit I still do not spend time worrying about if my stepkid likes me or not, because well, that’s her personal opinion and there is nothing I can do to change it. And again, I am confident in her love for me which is more important to me than her like for me. But here’s the truth. I try incredibly hard to be someone that radiates love, peace, and safety for her. I go out of my way to make sure she feels seen, heard, and understood. I am hyperaware of her feelings and moods, and make it known I am here to comfort and encourage her anytime she needs it. In fact, I “try” harder with her than I do my own biological children because I know how much deeper her struggles are and how much more she needs me when she is here. I am still working on a healthy balance there because my sons are getting older and starting to pick up on my tendency to cater to her needs first and foremost. It’s a juggling act I haven’t quite mastered yet.
2. I don’t feel sorry for her.
Just writing those words makes my stomach hurt. How do I even begin to describe the level of heartbreak I feel over what this child has been through and continues to go through. Words do not suffice. My eyes have been opened to so many things this past three years – hard things. Things I wish I could unsee. I cry about it with God. I cry about it with my husband. I even cry about it with her sometimes. It all just feels like too much and makes me feel angry, sad, and hopeless all at the same time. At this point, there’s almost nothing I wouldn’t be willing to do to take all the pain and trauma away from her. My point: PLEASE ask God to break your heart for your stepkids. They need your empathy and compassion more than you will ever know. Even when they act like they don’t want it.
3. I have high expectations.
It’s actually hard for me to believe at one point I was dumb enough to expect my stepdaughter to just walk in our front door and feel and act like a “normal” member of our family. There is nothing normal about leaving one home to go live at a different one every other week/weekend. I mean seriously, what kind of superhero kid can just seamlessly transition back and forth between two worlds, two families, and two different sets of beliefs and values? Y’all. Let me just go ahead and tell you what to expect from kids of divorce. Lying. Manipulation. Chameleon-like behaviors. Anger. Avoidance. And that’s just a preview. Guess what? These are all NORMAL reactions to an ABONORMAL situation. Does this mean we condone these behaviors? Of course not. But we do need to stop being shocked by them and understand there is something deeper driving these behaviors and its called trauma. They developed these ‘negative’ behaviors to help them survive. Lower your expectations. And then lower them some more.
I will always be the first to admit when I am wrong. And the truth is, I influence a lot of stepparents and I want to hold myself accountable for when I lead y’all in the wrong direction. Please accept this as my formal apology, and I hope this has helped you to see things from a new, better, and more trauma-informed perspective.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachel Dunne, the Spiritual Stepmom. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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